10 Tips to Make Your Spine Care Experience Safer

Think your health and safety is solely in the hands of your doctor? Think again.

All healthcare events—from a doctor’s visit for nagging neck pain to a major spine surgery—feature a care team of doctors, nurses, lab technicians, pharmacists, physical therapists, and more. While it seems that medical professionals have the sole responsibility of keeping you safe, you are the center of your care team. There’s a lot you can do to improve your spine care experience and protect your safety.

To help you be an active advocate for your spine health, here are 10 strategies to keep you safe from the health care facility to your recovery at home.

husband asks doctor about his wife's careAs you work with medical professionals, remember you are a consumer of health services—and you’re more in control than you may think. #1. Wash your hands. If there’s one step to keep yourself safe, it’s the tried-and-true method of washing your hands. If you have a back or neck procedure in a hospital or outpatient spine center, handwashing is essential to preventing infections. And, regardless whether you’re at a care facility or at home, always wash your hands after handling any soiled material and after you use the bathroom.

#2. Talk your care team’s ears off about your spine procedure. Ask every question you can think of in regards to your care. Are you having a cervical spinal fusion and want to know the risks? Ask. Wondering how many procedures of this type your surgeon has performed? Good question. Has your doctor recommended a CT scan, and you don’t know why? Speak up. Don’t feel rude about questioning anyone involved with your care.

#3. Speak up if you need help. If you’re recovering from a spine procedure at the hospital, understand how to properly care for yourself and when to alert a nurse. For example, if you have an intravenous catheter, you need to keep the skin around the dressing clean, secure, and dry. If the dressing loosens or gets wet, don’t wait for the next time a nurse checks in to fix it—alert a nurse immediately.

#4. Keep asking questions as you’re discharged. If you had spine surgery and are leaving the hospital or outpatient spine center, make sure you’re confident taking care of yourself without the ever-present aid of a medical team. Have your doctor explain, both written and verbally, the details of your at-home treatment plan, including how to safety take your medications, dietary alterations, bathing instructions, follow-up appointment expectations, and when you can incorporate activities back you’re your daily life.

#5. Make some lifestyle adjustments (if necessary). If you are overweight and/or a smoker, you are increasing your risk for back and neck pain. And, if you’re scheduled for spine surgery, both excess weight and smoking up your risk for infection while in the hospital and inhibit your ability to recover. If you’re looking for ways to be safer and healthier, losing weight and quitting smoking should be near the top of your list. 

#6. Research health care facilities. If you learn you need a spine procedure, wouldn’t you want to know the facilities near you that boast the highest patient satisfaction rates for the treatment? Or, the doctors who have the most experience performing it? If you have flexibility on where to get care, research the best hospitals or outpatient facilities near you. Before choosing a facility, always check that is in your health insurance’s network.

#7. Ensure your conditions are coordinated. If you have multiple conditions (eg, high blood pressure, diabetes), you need someone, such as your primary care physician, to coordinate your care and ensure all your providers have your comprehensive health information. This is essential, as you can’t assume your spine surgeon also knows about your heart condition. Mention your co-existing conditions at all phases of your care in case something was overlooked or misunderstood.

#8. Be drug smart. Being a safe consumer of medications goes beyond simply following the correct dose. Are you getting refills at the appropriate time? Are you adhering to drug? Are you making the right adjustments to your drug regimen if you’re having spine surgery? Medication safety can be complex, and you can learn more in SpineUniverse’s article about medication safety tips.

#9. Secure details of home health services. If your doctor ordered home health services or home medical equipment to help you recover from a spine procedure, make sure you know exactly what services or equipment to expect. Ask your nurse for help choosing a company, if necessary. Before moving forward with a home health care company, first check your health insurance’s preferred provider list to ensure it is covered.

#10. Create a safe home environment. Your home is your sanctuary, but there are lots of simple ways you can make it even safer for your spine. Night lights can help prevent falls in the middle of the night, as can keeping walkways free of clutter. Keep a mobile phone charger near you bed, so your phone is charged in case of an emergency. If you have a landline phone, place it on a nightstand with a list of important phone numbers nearby.

Concluding Considerations
As you work with medical professionals, remember you are a consumer of health services—and you’re more in control than you may think. Whether by making healthier lifestyle choices or simply asking questions to your doctor, the safety of your spine is largely in your hands. Be empowered by your role as the center of your care team.

Updated on: 08/01/18
Continue Reading
Spine Surgeon Tells Patients How to Prepare for an Appointment
Continue Reading:

Spine Surgeon Tells Patients How to Prepare for an Appointment

Since most of us aren’t likely to have much time with a specialist, we asked Lali Sekhon, MD to share his advice on making the most of your doctor’s visit.
Read More